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“The voice I finally heard that day was my own—the girl I’d locked away at ten years old, the girl I was before the world told me who to be—and she said: Here I am. I’m taking over now.” ~ Glennon Doyle
None of us came into the world as adults—that child we were lives inside us.
Some of us allow our inner child to play in the world, through creativity and nurturing relationships. Others, like author Glennon Doyle, learn early on to lock away those inner children, usually because it is safer to grow up quickly. This may be because of traumas we’ve been through or as a response to family situations.
I’ve always been the uber-responsible sort. I had A’s in school and kudos in my employment evaluations. But that sort of responsibility comes with a toll. The body always knows when stress is too much; it was high blood pressure and weight fluctuations in my case.
Becoming a parent, I noticed that while my husband was under the table with our daughter pretending he was in a cave, I was baking cookies and reading to her. Don’t get me wrong, I am a great baker, but these pursuits were goal-oriented. These are the things that result in miniature adults rather than kids.
I could hear my inner child. She wanted to be under the table playing too, but that felt impossible. Like Glennon Doyle, I kept her locked away.
I am beginning to learn how to let her out now.
Locking away our inner child only causes more wounds. And we often don’t realize that we’ve done it until a wake-up call happens.
One of the champions of inner child work is John Bradshaw, author of Homecoming. He explains how the inner child causes us pain in the present.
He says, “If our vulnerable child was hurt, abandoned, shamed, or neglected, that child’s pain, grief, and anger live on within us.”
“I believe that this neglected, wounded inner child of the past is the major source of human misery.” ~ John Bradshaw
Repairing early hurts allows us to have access to Self—the innermost part of us that is calm, curious, and creative—according to Dick Schwartz, developer of Internal Family Systems. This approach also helps us access and repair these childhood wounds. Our inner children want only to be cared for, and to share their burdens and story.
Recognizing Our Inner Wounds
To bury our inner children, we create walls of protection. It is within these walls that the clues of our woundedness are found.
>> Lack of playfulness, spontaneity, or creativity.
It’s a heavy load to carry childhood burdens, and this leaves little room for playfulness. As a child, I was creative and loved to draw. The expectations of art lessons, which led to competitions, nipped that creativity in the bud. Playfulness and spontaneity provide the spice of life.
>> Perfectionism, organization, and the self-criticizer.
Schwartz calls this the manager part of us. Perfectionism, organization, and self-criticism are ways of controlling our worlds and keeping us from being hurt again or from being rejected. They keep our inner children safe—or do they?
>> Emotional numbing and restriction.
When emotions are too painful, we develop ways to numb them. This inner tamping down of emotions leads to emotional flatness. Many people use substances like food or alcohol to repress emotions further. While emotional numbing manages the past pain, it does not allow us to live fully in the present.
>> Self-harm and sabotage.
While some people abuse substances to numb, others rely on addictions, self-harm, compulsions, including chronic suicidal thoughts, as a distraction from the inner child. The need to continually put out fires does not allow us to heal the wounds and get at the core of what we need.
Inner Child Work
Inner child work is hard. You have to be willing to face emotions, including rage, fears, grief, and loneliness. But allowing the inner child to come out allows for a reclaiming and freedom.
You may embark on this work with a trusted therapist and even do some on your own. One technique to access your inner child and give it voice is dialoguing with your child through the two-handed method. When you are ready, grab a piece of paper and something to write with. Be willing to ask questions and remember that your responses should be neutral or loving.
Using your dominant hand (such as your right hand if you are right-handed), the adult or “parent” part of you can ask your child questions.
For instance, you may write a question like:
“How old are you?”
“How do you feel today?”
“What do you need?”
Keep the questions simple, and ask one at a time.
Answer with your non-dominant hand. Don’t edit; accept the answers that come in. Hear the pain. This may be hard. Also, remember that adults often need to set boundaries, such as telling the child that it is not okay to eat a bag of chocolate. Write as long as you like and need.
This is not a one and done. It takes time. But the benefits will be immediate. Some people describe it as a feeling of being lighter or more at ease. Some begin drawing or creating more often (probably the first time in many years). I encourage you to try this out.